Something for the weekend: poles, podcasts and Chomsky

by Gareth on February 12, 2011

Casanova - 1996Something for everyone this weekend: a few podcasts to grab, ice news from both ends of the planet, interesting reading, and a great interview with Noam Chomsky. Audio first: Radio NZ National’s Bryan Crump interviewed Prof Jean Palutikof, Director of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at Griffith University in Queensland at the beginning of the week. It’s a wide-ranging discussion: Palutikof is an engaging speaker and frank about the dangers we confront. Grab the podcast now, because it’ll disappear from the RNZ site on Monday.

Matthew Woods’ Journeys to the Ice blog (part of the Sciblogs network) recently featured a two-part podcast on “the Greenland ice sheet in a high CO2 world” — an extended interview with Canadian ice modeller Jeremy Fyke. It’s interesting both for the light Fyke’s work sheds on possible futures for the ice sheet, but also a fascinating insight to the process of building and running complex climate models.

At the other end of the planet:

  • Aussie researchers working on the Lambert Glacier ice stream have discovered evidence that the huge East Antarctic ice sheet may respond to warming rather more quickly than had been thought. Oh dear.
  • Antarctica New Zealand has finished provisioning a new camp at Roosevelt Island, 700 km East of the NZ and US bases on the western edge of the Ross ice shelf for the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution (RICE) project, a seven nation collaboration between NZ, the US, Denmark, Germany, Britain, Australia, and Italy. Drilling starts next summer with the expectation of producing a high resolution core that will shed light on the stability of the Ross ice shelf and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet during the transition out of the last ice age.
  • The BBC looks at the secrets of Antarctica’s fossilised forests — how gingkos survived the long night (the long summers more than made up for the dark, apparently), and how the local dinosaurs adapted.

On the big island to the north of Tasmania, the government’s chief climate adviser Ross Garnaut has begun releasing updates to his 2008 report: three in the last ten days. I’m waiting with interest to hear what he has to say about the state of the science (due on March 10), but he wasn’t afraid to draw the obvious conclusion about weather extremes when releasing the first update, Weighing the costs and benefits of climate change action. One point seemed well made: “the presence of uncertainty in the range of possible climate outcomes strengthens the case for climate change action” — something that every politician needs to understand.

On the subject of extremes, Reuters has a long feature on how the US insurance industry is responding. “It’s a tough time to be in the $500 billion U.S. property insurance business. Storms are happening in places they never happened before, at intensities they have never reached before and at times of year when they didn’t used to happen.”

Some good new web sites:

  • NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) has relaunched its web presence with a very good looking and informative site. Plenty of material on ocean acidification and the oceanic carbon cycle, with excellent graphics. Worth having a dig around there…
  • If you ever get confused but all those acronyms for ocean/atmosphere interactions — PDO, ENSO, NAO, SAM and so on, UCAR has the page for you. Good clear explanations and nice illustrations.
  • The Carbon Brief is a new UK climate news site. It’s a professional effort, with good news coverage, excellent background articles and profiles of key players. Keep an eye on their Twitter or RSS feed.

A prominent scientist is fighting back against the libels slung around so freely by the denial campaign. Canadian climatologist Andrew Weaver is suing “freelance climate change denier” Tim Ball. DeSmogBlog and the New York Times have the details, but it looks like an open and shut case. Ball went too far, and picked on the wrong person…

And finally: Noam Chomsky. Many years ago, in a classroom far, far away, I had to parse a page of Chomsky (writing about grammar) as part of the entrance exam to a well-known university. It was damn near impenetrable (but I got in). In this interview, he’s anything but. In some senses, his views are old fashioned — you don’t hear many people (especially not in the US) talking about class issues — but even if you don’t agree with everything he says, the man talks sense. Discussing the election of so many Republican climate deniers he says: “If this was happening in some small country it wouldn’t matter much. But when it’s happening in the richest, most powerful country in the world, it’s a danger to the survival of the species.” I fear he’s right [via Energy Bulletin].

[The Divine Comedy]

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

David Foote February 12, 2011 at 4:31 pm

“In some senses, his views are old fashioned”
If by old fashioned you mean “critical of the dominant paradigm” then yes. Just because someone fails to recognize the unassailable righteousness of capitalism doesn’t make them old fasioned. You can certainly make the argument that Chomsky’s politics are idealistic, but not old fashioned. In the parlance of the republican party he is a radical proggressive, and you can’t have it both ways.

Gareth February 12, 2011 at 6:13 pm

No, that’s not what I mean. I am often “critical of the dominant paradigm” myself, but I pitch my arguments differently. Chomsky has described himself as a libertarian socialist (which is about as hard to get your head round as his Universal Grammar), and it’s more the unabashed socialism that I found “old-fashioned” just because you don’t often find it being so clearly articulated these days. Didn’t stop me smiling through much of his presentation, though…

If I were to be critical of anything he said, I might argue that his very US-centric vision is beginning to sound old-fashioned too. The US is *very* important to implementing global emissions reductions, but they are not the only game in town any more. My feeling is that the self interest of China and India, both waking up to the impacts of climate change inside their own borders, is becoming equally if not more important. And lets not forget that in economic terms, the US is deeply in hock to China…

bill February 12, 2011 at 6:39 pm

He’s also described himself as an 18th Century conservative!

One hardly has to apologise for offering an opportunity to listen to Chomsky :-) ; the absence of ‘class’ in the US is hardly a fact, neither is believing that they still exist somehow ‘quaint’ or anachronistic; if anything, the dearth of any such analysis in ‘respectable’ scholarship is a testimony to the remarkable reach (and success) of the very same propaganda systems that are now aimed at denying the reality of AGW!

There’s always been a striking gap between Chomsky the linguist versus Chomsky the social critic and activist; I’d guess most of us outside the field would find it hard to wrap our heads around the more esoteric aspects of the discussion concerning the presence or absence of a universal grammar, whereas his political writings have taken Orwell’s ‘keep it simple but not patronisingly so’ recommendations to heart. Don’t forget his scathing critiques of the obscurantist aspects of both behaviourism and post-modernism!

‘Colourless green ideas sleep furiously”! Google it folks – you might even have fun! ;-)

David Foote February 14, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Libertarian socialism should not be confused with libertarianism which is basically individualist anarchism. Libertarian Socialism is any one of several anti-stateist “flavours” of socialism, including most variations on anarchism, the French situationist, the European autonomists (of which Antonio Negri, one of the most important contemporary critics of free market economics, was a founding member), and much of the 1960s counter culture. Put very simply Chomsky is an anarchist, with heavy syndicalist leanings…although he often avoids labelling himself as such because of the negative baggage attached to calling yourself an anarchist.

I would also argue that his point that if the US is “to big to fail” is not unfounded. The economies of the world are so interconnected now that if the US did collapse, it would have a huge impact on the rest of the world. That is the precise reason why China has leant them the money they have, because without the biggest consuming nation in the world, the biggest producing nation in the world would also be in trouble.

Gareth February 14, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Thanks for the explanation of Chomsky’s socialism. I gave up trying to keep tabs on the various flavours of left wing thought a long, long time ago.

My point about the USA was not so much that they are not “too big to fail”, just that their world view — that nobody can do anything unless the US agrees — is rapidly becoming irrelevant. Given the direction that the Republicans seem to want to take (including cutting a swathe through the NASA science budget while maintaining fossil fuel subsidies), it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the rest of the world just got on with trying to sort out the carbon problem, leaving the US on the sidelines.

John D February 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm

It’s a common misnomer that libertarianism is a creation of the right. In fact I think the terms left and right wing are fairly outdated as they can encompass a range of views.

For example, there may be those who favour small state and personal liberty, but who are fairly liberal in their views with regard to, for example, gay civil rights. I don’t know you could classify these people as “right wing” but libertarian is a reasonable label for them, because of the small state issue.

I was also intrigued by the concept of “libertarian marxist”,.

Someone who describes himself in this way is Brendan O’Neill, who writes for Spiked Online.

Spiked was the predecessor for LM mag, the journal of the revolutionary communist party.

Note that spiked is fairly sceptical on AGW, and was described by Monbiot as being “deniers”

So maybe things aren’t as simple and black and white as some folk like to think.

bill February 14, 2011 at 3:48 pm

These days there’s a goodly amount of negative baggage associated with the term ‘Libertarian’, too – the Anarchists had the bomb-throwing ‘useful idiots’ to contend with, the left-Libertarians have the Randists and the Tea Partyite ‘anti-gubmint and vir’nment’lists’ brigade! Personally I think the word will be irredeemably tainted for the foreseeable future…

I agree – we have to do something whether the US perversely chooses to make itself redundant in the most important arena of the 21st Century or not! Given the egregious new congress and its ridiculous assault on science and reason, and Obama’s general uninspiring haplessness, we certainly can’t expect much from them and are wasting our time wishing or hoping for it!

bill February 12, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Wow, the actual Notice of Claim against Ball is an absolute hoot! Well worth your time.

Thomas February 12, 2011 at 9:28 pm

A great read indeed. I wish Weaver good luck with it and hopefully Ball gets a good hiding!

Susan Anderson February 16, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Yes!!! What Thomas said.

Eco Divad February 16, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Yes!
What Susan Anderson said!

Thomas February 12, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Yes Chomsky is probably right. The way the Amercian political system is screwed up in favor of a totally dysfunctional system of enrichment of the few at the cost of the many and the future of this planet is hard to put into words.
If humanity has a future it must be a cooperative one. It will not be a future happening as a by-product of capital gain interests of the wealthy. The excesses of the free market hyperbole was possible on the back of the phenomenal growth of the fossil fuel induced trajectory of the last century. A mere blip on the time line of the history of humanity. Beyond this blip must lay a different future. Getting there will be a hard road.

Educating the frightened headless masses who elect Republican ignoramuses like parasite infected mice wander voluntarily into the cats den would be a good start….

On Toxoplasma infections and the interaction of cats and mice: http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2007/04/how-a-parasite-can-help-a-cat-catch-its-mouse.ars

Madjack February 12, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Good to see scientists starting to push back.

cindy February 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm

hmmm, listening to Jean Palutikof who seems to be under the impression that the big problem in Copenhagen and Cancun were the BRICs (Brazil, India, China)… but that certainly wasn’t my experience – we can place the US at the heart of all recent international political failures.

She says “I’m just a scientist but I don’t do policy” yet the entire interview appears to be based on her views of what is happening in the political arena.

hmmph.

R2D2 February 15, 2011 at 9:39 pm

“Meteorologists are pretty faces on a television screen”

Really? Here I was thinking they were scientists who studies weather patterns.

R2D2 February 15, 2011 at 9:47 pm

He talks a lot of baloney about why the Democrats lost the Ted Kennedy seat. I would say it has to do more with wasteful spending and fear of a ballooning deficit than some complex theory about fighting back over healthcare.

R2D2 February 15, 2011 at 10:02 pm

“Those manufacturing jobs are not coming back, not unless we have quite a different social order here”

Not sure what he means here. The manufacturing jobs are not coming back because American wages are higher than those in China. This is a good thing for American’s. He then talks about not importing goods from Spain that can be built in USA. Does he realise USA is a member of the WTO? Does he understand the most simple forms of Ricardo-ian economics?

I found this entire interview very unimpressive. I am glad this guy does not run things or the protectionist mistakes of the 30s would have been repeated making the GFC another global depression. His sweeping comment that almost no economists picked the fall in housing prices is also incredibly wrong.

bill February 15, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Not sure what he means here

you were right the first time

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